The Secret of the Catch

by Martin Jennings


          With the cuffs of his khakis rolled up to his knees, Henrik stomped through the wet sand to where the surf washed over his ankles.  The ocean foamed and frothed between his toes like spilled beer.  Everyone else was rousing from their tents and cocooning themselves in wool blankets since the bonfire had dwindled to an ash pile with a few stubborn embers.  Henrik awoke hours before anyone else and watched the sun appear over the horizon.  It was a fitful sleep being only his second night with Duchamp and the group.  Feeling restless, he decided to catch breakfast for everyone.  After grabbing his grandfather’s fishing pole from the back of the truck, he brushed past Duchamp and one of the Haitians whose name Henrik couldn’t remember.

            “How on earth are you going to catch a fish without bait?”  Duchamp shouted.

            Henrik smiled a crooked smile and hollered over his shoulder, “If you know what you’re doing, you don’t need bait.”

           This response was inherited from his grandfather, much like the fishing pole.  During summer camping trips to Lake Schlitz, all the other fathers and grandfathers toiled with bait and spinners, worms, chicken liver, even gouda cheese: anything to catch the attention of the bass that populated the lake.  Henrik’s grandfather threw a simple, naked hook into the water and let it float beneath the surface.  The other fishermen laughed and called out to him until he reeled in the largest and most impressive fish, time and again.

            “How the hell do you do that, Nilsen?” The men shouted, their voices brimming with an amused jealousy.

            His grandfather always replied, “If you know what you’re doing, you don’t need any goddamn bait.”

           The other fishermen threw in their bare hooks but caught nothing.  Henrik and his brother Nico pestered their grandfather to share his secret.  He repeated what he told the fishermen though neither boy believed that there wasn’t some trick.  It wasn’t until Henrik’s sixteenth birthday that his grandfather presented him with the fishing pole.  When they hugged, his grandfather whispered the secret to always pulling a full hook from the water.  The weight of the knowledge stunned Henrik into silence.

            As he was standing in the water, feeling the wet breeze rustle his flannel collar, Henrik recalled the words that his grandfather whispered to him.  He breathed them into the tide.  From behind him, Duchamp wrapped his wiry, tan arms around Henrik’s waist.  It was something his wife used to do when he dressed in the mornings though the Frenchman was more substantial, allowing him to lean back until their centers of gravity merged.  Duchamp had a hold of him when the line jerked.  The two men laughed as Henrik’s strong shoulders jerked back, increasing the tension on the pole.  The rest of the group gathered around, cackling against the spray and cheering on the newest member of their driftwood tribe.


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